It’s election time in the Windy City and the prize this year is the governor’s mansion in downstate Springfield, the stately home that four of the last seven governors have had to depart for orange jump suits and federal prisons.
Election season in Illinois is also the time when residents lower their heads, hold their noses, take plenty of Maalox and Pepto Bismol, and load up an occasional air sick bag, knowing they have no recourse but to suffer through a tsunami of nauseating, lying, non-stop ads until the first week in November. Then normal life resumes, with high taxes, the most corrupt political system in the U.S. shamelessly steering residents toward a financial cliff, and black war-zones in the city, all driving those who can leave out of the state.
This year, the candidates for governor are two enormously rich people. One, incumbent Republican governor Bruce Rauner, is a multi-multi-millionaire private equity fund chairman from the wealthy North Shore who made $150 million his last year before becoming governor and has plenty of his own money to spend on ads.
Rauner was elected four years ago on a platform of bringing fiscal reform to a state that has somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion – yes, billion – in public pension debt obligations which must be paid in installments before money can go to things like schools. In Chicago, roughly 70 cents of every dollar of property tax revenue goes to pension debt, leaving 30 cents per dollar for schools.
Rauner was elected promising fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget, thinking he could go head to head with Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, who has run Illinois for 35 years, is a loyal friend to Chicago unions, and never met a tax he didn’t like. But Rauner has so far lost his battles with Madigan – the state went without a budget for two years – and voters must now face whether reform is in the cards for a state that never had any.
The other candidate for governor is one J.B. Pritzker, a 53-year-old chubby heir to the Pritzker Hyatt Hotels fortune. J.B. inherited over $2 billion from the family and has always had a hankering for politics. He is credited with helping send Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison, making a call, interesting enough, to Rod eight days after Barack Obama was elected president, asking him what he planned to do with Barack’s empty senate seat, a call that Rod wasn’t aware was being taped by the FBI.
J.B. won the Democratic primary in March, after which Rauner started running ads in preparation to the fall election, telling the story of how J.B. bought a mansion on the North Side, next to a mansion he already owned, and had all the toilets removed, then negotiated with the Cook County Assessor to have the property deemed “uninhabitable,” saving $230,000 on property taxes.
But Chicagoans are a forgiving lot. J.B. said he was sorry, and currently leads in the polls by some 15 points over Rauner.
Then last week J.B.’s good friend Barack Obama jumped in to throw his support behind J.B., recording a short video from his own mansion in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. In an enthusiastic, friendly voice, looking into the camera as only Barack can, he said:
“I’m proud to endorse J.B. Pritzker to be the net governor of my home state of Illinois! And I’ll tell you why! J.B. get things done! When folks said Illinois couldn’t be a leader in high tech jobs, J.B thought we could. He started a tech incubator that helped entrepreneurs create hundreds of new companies, and more than 7,000 good jobs.
“When J.B. saw that too many of our school kids were going hungry, he made it a personal mission to change that. In working with Illinois non-profits, he helped expand a program we started to make sure more than 200,000 low income Illinois kids can have access school breakfast.
“I know J.B. I trust J.B. And that’s who he is: someone who is always thinking about how he can make a difference. Someone who identifies the right problems and brings together the right people to solve them. And that’s something we can use in Illinois. J.B. will be a governor who looks out for all of us.”
As sincere as he looked in the video, that must have been a difficult endorsement for Barack to read from his home teleprompter.
Barack is not that beloved in Illinois, or even in Chicago for that matter, despite what his loyal national media fans say. His Hope-and-Change speak left blacks in Chicago worse off in their war zone neighborhoods than before, except for perhaps getting them more dependent on government programs. Maybe that’s what he means by a governor who “looks out for all of us.”
When he rose to national politics as a U.S. Senate candidate, he was well behind in the polls for both the Democratic primary and the general election, until his henchman David Axelrod, a former Tribune reporter, urged his former employer to get the divorce details of his opponents unsealed, which suddenly sent Barack skyrocketing in the polls and on to election.
Illinois politics have always been about strategically placing a knife into an opponent for best advantage, and supporting your political friends who didn’t knife you, not necessarily talking about issues like jobs or school breakfasts. Barack can’t talk about all the money Rauner has, because J.B. has much, much more, which he didn’t even earn.
So Barack has to appeal to his strongest Hope and Change voter base, the poor and the black in Chicago, by offering up a bloated, super rich guy, partly as payback for helping dispatch Barack’s hated rival Blago, by offering what he could – a J.B. creature who helped create some vague “tech incubator” that created JOBS, always an important buzzword for politicians to offer Chicago’s poor, as well as help feed them breakfast, something they all can relate to.
Not that any of the jobs or breakfast will ever find them. But at least Barack is showing the world he supports his trusted friends, as long as they look like winners.